The Woman in the Camphor Trunk

"Anna Blanc was the most beautiful woman ever to barrel down Long Beach Strand with the severed head of a Chinese man." That killer line opens Jennifer Kincheloe's The Woman in the Camphor Trunk, the follow-up to 2016's The Secret Life of Anna Blanc, and aptly sets the tone for a novel that's madcap and grisly and moves at a fast clip.

It's Los Angeles, 1908. After her escapades in the first book, Anna has been disowned by her wealthy father, is living at a boardinghouse and works as an assistant police matron for the LAPD. The severed head leads her to Chinatown, where tensions are rising between two gangs and threatening to erupt into all-out war.

It doesn't help when Anna and Detective Joe Singer, the man she insists she doesn't love, discover a corpse--a whole one this time--stuffed in a trunk. The biggest problem? The female victim is white and the trunk is in the apartment of a Chinese man, who has disappeared. Fearing a repeat of the racially motivated Chinatown massacre of 1871, Anna and Joe must find the killer before news gets out and white locals storm Chinatown to avenge the woman's death.

Anna remains a delightful combination of smarts and feistiness. Kincheloe neatly captures her essence in lines such as: "Anna's apartment building catered to single ladies of good reputation. Thus, Anna had to pay extra." Humor aside, the novel delves into ugly topics still relevant today, like sexual slavery and racism. While making readers chuckle, Kincheloe also makes them think. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

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